Play Play

I’m still trying to understand the rationale behind Google’s rebranding of the Android Market. Not that the original name was going to win any awards, but you at least had an idea of what to expect in the context of a smartphone or tablet. Market: probably a place you buy things. Apps for sure, but maybe some music and videos, too.

Google Play sounds like Android’s Xbox Live. Play is also the name of a Google Reader feature that lets you view feed items as a slideshow. It’s a strange name for a store that sells things that you don’t play. Yes, you can play music. You can play games. You can play movies. But can you play books? What about non-game apps? You don’t play those.

You also have to wonder how wise it is to change the name of a smartphone store that has the largest installed base out of any other platform. If Google wanted to move it away from being solely Android, they could have just removed “Android” from the name, added “Google” and called it a day. Google Market sounds fine to me. It’s pretty jarring to look down at my phone and see “Play Store” where “Market” used to be.

In addition to the entire store being renamed, a few related apps were renamed, also.

“Music” was renamed to “Play Music,” so now everyone knows what to do with their MP3s.

“Books” was renamed to “Play Books,” which is confusing, and immediately reminds me of RIM’s failure of a tablet.

I assume the “Play” store is going to stretch across platforms and devices, and it was necessary to remove “Android.” But “Play” rubs me the wrong way. It’s another decision in the Larry Page era that I don’t like. It’s unimaginative, but that seems to be the trend lately.

Google+ and the New Google

When I think back to my Internet days B.G. (before Google), I struggle to remember which search engine I used. I assume Yahoo!, though I vaguely remember typing in names like “AskJeeves” and “AltaVista.” Before Google, finding what you needed wasn’t that easy. Google changed the game, and it became a fixture in our culture. Hell, it’s a verb. “Google it.”

Google Search was worlds better than anything out. They didn’t have to force me into using it. I typed “google.com” into my address bar willingly. When Gmail launched and a kind soul gave me a beta invite, I also made that my main email address. Willingly. No gun to my head. Gmail was a vastly superior product to Yahoo! Mail, or Hotmail, or anything else that was currently available. Google won me by being better.

I can tell this same story over and over for products like Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Reader, and so on. When Calendar launched, I didn’t touch another calendar app again. When Docs launched, I washed my hands of Microsoft Office. When Reader launched, I read more and I shared more, because it no longer felt like work.

I use a lot of Google products, and most of them are best in class. For the products I love, I never felt for a second like I was being herded into using them against my will. It never felt like a hard sell. Google, in the past, has been really good about that.

Except with social.

Buzz kicked it off. One day, Google decided to add a Twitter competitor to everyone’s Gmail inbox. Terrible idea. People were angry, and rightfully so. No one signed up for Gmail so that they could join another social network, yet Google felt it was a necessary move. Buzz pissed a lot of people off and never caught on. It was later killed off.

You’re seeing the same thing now with Google+. Google is trying to reinvent itself (a “New Google,” kind of like “New Coke”), and is again trying to herd its existing user base into a new service that they don’t really want. It’s trying too hard. Google+ is, essentially, the guy at the bar who keeps hitting on a woman, missing all of the obvious signs that she’s not interested.

Google+: “Hi there. I see that you’re a fan of Guinness. May I sit down?”

Woman: “Sorry, I just want to drink by myself if you don’t mind.”

Google+: “Haha, that’s cute. But seriously, let’s talk a little bit. My name’s Google+. I help you share things with people, but I’m not a social network.”

Woman: “Cool.”

Google+: “So… what’s your name? What do you do? Who are you friends with?”

Woman: *leaves*

Worse yet, Google is gimping its inventive spirit in order to focus on things that promote Google+. It killed off Google Labs. It took the Share feature out of Google Reader, opting instead for a “+1” button. Former Google employee James Whittaker quit the company because he longed for the imaginative Google of old, instead of the Google+ focused corporation (“New Google”) that exists today. It feels like Google has replaced innovation with desperation, and as a Google fanboy, it is painful to watch. It’s like I don’t even know Google anymore.

It will be an interesting year, or two years, or three years. I personally think Google+ will be killed off within that period of time, and it will be devastating to the company because of the importance Google itself placed on the initiative. Anything less than mass adoption constitutes failure, and Google seems determined to get there by force.

Good luck with that.

Life & Time

This past Saturday, I spoke to my grandfather on the phone about how he could fix up one of his websites. Each time we talk, whether it’s by phone, email, or in person, these lines usually work their way into the conversation.

“Hey, you know what you should do? [insert seven or eight business ideas here].”

They’re always unrelated to the Web or to tech in general, so they’re not really up my alley. But the constantly turning gears always inspire me.

Decades ago, my grandfather started a lapping company called Lapco, which he later sold to a German company called Stahli. I just know that, if he had seven or eight more lives to live, he’d try to become successful in seven or eight other industries. An entrepreneurial streak runs through that side of my family, and I’m pretty certain I inherited it.

This, of course, has made working for another company quite the challenge.

A flaw of mine is that I feel the need to put my stamp on everything, so to speak. I’m certain I have driven my bosses mad by trying to change things that have been in place for years. But that’s just me. Even outside of work, I enjoy meddling in things that aren’t my specialty, but are still things I think I could positively impact in some way. You might say I’m unfocused. I disagree. At the end of the day, we each have one life to live, and doing just one thing really well seems like an unsatisfying way to live it in my eyes.

A legacy means nothing to a dead person. Money means nothing to a dead person. If you ask someone slipping away on their deathbed what they wish they had more of, the answer you’d probably get is “Time.” What I want is to adopt the perspective of someone who wishes they had done more while I’m still able to do more.

So, from here on out, that’s the plan.

The Way Things Are

“Instead of being able to SEO the entire Internet, businesses can now only affect the search results for a tiny percentage of users. That’s a good thing because SEO can’t scale, and SEO isn’t good for users or the Internet at large.”

That statement came from Google employee Jonathan Rockway, though he later backtracked and said he meant to type something else (Matt Cutts disagreeing might have had something to do with that). I wish he had doubled down on his statement. In fact, I wish Google had come out as a company and backed him up. Everything he said was absolutely, positively correct.

Google’s job is to deliver the best search results possible. Your job is to be the best match for a user. If you aren’t the top result for a particular search based on Google’s algorithms (which are getting smarter every day), you should not be able to manipulate the results. And I feel this way even though I work for a Web design/marketing company and SEO/SEM is increasingly working its way into my job. I feel conflicted.

That conflict is the subject here. I think it’s a good thing. If you feel it too, in some way, you’re on the right track.

If you aren’t constantly at odds with the way things are, you don’t care enough about making things better.

QR you serious?

While watching TV one night, I was treated to one to a commercial from one of the classier companies of our time, GoDaddy. During said commercial, Danica Patrick was pretending that she hates working for GoDaddy while a QR code remained visible at the bottom of the screen. I didn’t have any time to scan it, nor did I want to (probably a link to a mobile video where they fail to deliver on their hype). But the use of the QR code in a commercial struck me as odd.

To me, a QR code is a way to bring something static to life. I envision a QR code on a baseball card, years old, linking to current stats. I see a Jeopardy promotion from a fast food chain, where you scan the QR code and Alex Trebek appears on video to give you the clue. It can also provide an easy link to something you naturally need to do on your phone anyway; installing an app, for example.

But TV? I don’t think so. If you have my attention during a 30-second ad spot on TV, you shouldn’t be distracting me with the black and white checkered box. Not to mention that most people won’t be able to scan the codes in time.

Same for QR codes on billboards (I’ve seen several people tweet about these). Who is in position, or cares enough, to scan one of these? You’re trying to use a technology where it doesn’t fit.

On printed materials, these make more sense. If you put a QR code in an ad or on a product, though, it had better do something useful, not just dump me off on your mobile site (or your full site — some do this). Dare to be imaginative. If I scan a QR code on a pizza ad and I get vCard contact information, I’m going to be extremely disappointed. Show me a special coupon? Now we’re talking. Link me to a video where your pizza slice mascot is dancing in public to “Sexy and I Know It” and I will probably share it with everyone.

I really hope someone does that.

Too often, companies and marketers alike are quick to find that next thing and abuse it. QR codes aren’t even it anymore — I’d argue that honor belongs to Pinterest — but people still want to see them and want to feel like they’re doing the latest things, so square pegs are squeezed into round holes. My plea is this: with anything, not just QR codes, put yourself in the user’s shoes. If it’s not neat to you, it’s probably not going to be neat to them. Let’s be neat.

Google+’s Minus

With a change to the new user registration flow, Google+ now has a more prominent place in the Googleverse. Now, instead of creating a Google+ account after you’re a registered Google account user, profile creation happens during the regular Google account setup process. It’s kind of a big deal.

You have to figure that the likelihood of a user poking around G+ rises significantly when they’re forced into signing up, rather than being given the option after the fact. The number of G+ accounts will go up as Google registers more new users. Add this to the fact that Google+ now has a very visible role in Google’s search results, and you get the sense that Google is going to do everything they can to make G+ succeed.

The problem is, they don’t seem to be putting a lot of emphasis on creating active users. They’re not doing their best to make the Google+ service addictive. One thing they should be putting a lot of focus on is mobile.

With the launch of the Galaxy Nexus smartphone, certain Google+ features, such as Circles and Hangouts, are being advertised as phone features (finally, an Android partner is learning how to sell features instead of specs!).

Brilliant.

For its own version of the Android OS, Google is in a unique position to include as much or as little of Google+ as it wants. Google needs to bake G+ into every nook and cranny of Android, and have Android serve as G+’s Trojan Horse. If mobile users get hooked on some of the features, Google might be able to coax them over to the desktop version of G+, where those features already exist. But mobile is where I think Google can really plant the seed of addiction.

The Galaxy Nexus commercial was good, and it was a step in the right direction. But Google and the manufacturers using Android need to continue down that path of thinking and keep pushing Google+’s best parts as Android phone features. Get users doing Hangouts, get them sorting contacts into Circles, get them talking over Messenger, and then do a better job at putting those features in front of them on the bigger screen.

Hitting the Tablet Sweet Spot

It’s not out yet, and it likely won’t be until later in the year, but the ASUS MeMO 370T tablet already has me ready to hand over my credit card.

Android devotee site Phandroid recently got a look at a prototype of the 370T, and from the video they took, the thing looks blazing fast, as it should be — it’s powered by a Tegra 3 quad-core processor. The tablet will come running Android 4.0, better known as Ice Cream Sandwich, and rocks a 1280×720 7-inch screen. This is particularly cool, since most 7-inch tablets don’t offer full 720p, instead opting for 1024×600 resolution screens. There is a back camera on the prototype, but there doesn’t appear to be a front-facing camera. This isn’t as big a deal when you consider the price ASUS is shooting for with this tablet:

$250.

Two-hundred fifty bucks for a quad-core tablet that boasts full 720p and the full Android experience? That kind of package makes the Kindle Fire look like a chump, and makes every other 7-inch Android tablet underspeced and overpriced. We’ll see if the price stays at $250, but if it does, I imagine these tablets selling like hotcakes. Add that to the already-successful Transformer line of tablets, and ASUS looks like it’s the only company doing Android tablets right.

I’ll undoubtedly be talking more about this device in the future, so stay tuned.

Information Overload

Back before its social subscription features were stripped away, I was a big Google Reader fan. I had hundreds of subscriptions of my own, but the most important reading was done in the “People You Follow” section. I trusted content curation to a few, knowing that I’d get to read the top items from the day, even if I didn’t get through my own subscriptions. This worked wonderfully for a while, but then it was gone.

I’ve been struggling to deal ever since.

The beauty about following people in Reader was the fact that nothing but news and blog articles made it into that stream. You can do something similar by creating Google and Facebook lists, but you’re not going to get straight content. Other things will enter the mix — status updates, photos, etc. — that add noise. It’s not the fault of the social networks, as they were built for sharing lots of different things. But what replaces Reader? What setup gives you the highest amount of awesome content shares with the lowest amount of other stuff?

Please, help me!

The Future of SEO?

I actually tweeted this article out into the WebDrafter Twitter stream yesterday (which I’d love for you to follow if you’re not already!), but I wanted to take a closer look at it and examine some of the possibilities.

An Australian site called StartupSmart published an article yesterday titled “5 SEO Trends to Lookout For in 2012.” Being someone who works at the intersection of social media and SEO on a daily basis, it was of particular interest to me. I want to go through each bullet point from the original article and give you my take on whether or not I think that particular change will manifest itself this year.

“Social media will be an even bigger factor in Google’s algorithm.”
The safest bet of the bunch. Social is already a bigger signal in search engine results than some would care to admit. Google’s search engine is only getting smarter as time goes on, and Google is starting to realize that, as good as some of their algorithms are, humans do a better job filtering the junk and curating the best content. 2012 will be a big year for social in search, no doubt.

“The search results page will continue to feature less organic rankings and more paid.”
Google puts a lot of focus on usability and simplicity. While the search engine results pages have gotten a lot more busy since Google first started out, I can’t see them reaching a point where paid search ads outnumber organic search results. In fact, I believe some of the newer formats Google is trying out are meant to increase conversions and revenue without having to put more ads on a page.

“Paid search will become more important in supporting SEO efforts.”
With the rise of “not provided” in Google Analytics, good keyword data is going to be a bit more difficult to come by — unless you’re also running AdWords campaigns. This one is a definite.

“Spammy SEO practices will get targeted even harder.”
What SEO is becoming is what it should have been all along — a process to make a site the most quality result for a keyword search, not through spun articles or conveniently-phrased keywords, but through genuine usefulness, with legitimate link and word-of-mouth endorsements through other websites and social media. The march toward this eventual goal is only going to continue, and Google will leave a lot of bloodied, down-ranked sites in its wake.

“SEO will become even more competitive than ever.”
This is going to be the year SEO and SEM as they are known today start to die. Search engine optimization companies that are skilled at developing great content  and online relationships on behalf of their clients will thrive. The multitude of companies who add more useless content to the Web will see what little success they’ve had start to vanish.

Thoughts? Shoot me a tweet (@shawn).

New Job

(Typing this on my tablet, so I’m sorry if it’s boring to look at.)

On Wednesday, November 16, I will officially become a part of the WebDrafter team. Job title is still undefined, but I will do many of the same things I’ve done as a freelancer, and handle some other marketing-related tasks. My conversations and meetings with the team have me incredibly excited to get started.

Accepting this new role left me with an interesting decision regarding Convoh. Obviously, I will no longer take on independent projects, since I would essentially be competing with my employer. I’ve decided that Convoh will live on as an umbrella for any new ideas I’m kicking around. The “Services” link and the connected pages will be killed off shortly.

A poet once said, “I want to be the very best, like no one ever was. To catch them is my real test. To train them is my cause.” I am confident that this move will help me become better at what I do, and I’m thrilled at the opportunity to help WebDrafter grow.